With the regular season is quickly approaching, here are the biggest question marks for the teams in the NFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Make or Break for Winston? Jameis Winston, like Marcus Mariota in Tennessee, did not receive a contract extension this off-season. Rightfully so, Winston has been inconsistent at best since he’s been in the league. Last year, he flip-flopped with Ryan Fitzpatrick basically on a game-to-game basis. He would look terrible and then look only okay the next week. If he wants that new contract, he’s going to have to light it up.
Barber the man? Running back Peyton Barber is the best running back on the roster. He will have to have a big year for this team to be successful. He has shown some spark but not much consistency.
Will the defense be better? This side of the ball was also very inconsistent as well last year. They added Ndamukong Suh to get pressure on the quarterback. He will also garner double teams, often allowing for someone else to make a play.
New Orleans Saints
Most dangerous team in the NFC? This team already had a potent offense last season. Now add the fact that they missed playing in the Championship game because of a non-call against the Rams for blatant pass interference. That makes the Saints extremely dangerous heading into this season.
Will they miss Ingram? A workhorse for this team, Mark Ingram is no longer here. Ingram was a change-of-pace back who complimented Alvin Kamara successfully. The team brought in Latavius Murray to fill the void left by Ingram. But will he be able to spell Kamara and eat up yards and first downs like his predecessor? The Saints can only hope.
Is being on this defense one of the easiest jobs in the league? When your offense puts up the number of points the Saints’ does, that can help make an average defense look elite. That is not the case with this defense, led by Cameron Jordan. This defense held their own with a best-of-the-best offense a year ago. Even if they lose a step or two, they will still be a top 10 or 12 squad.
Matty Ice or Ice Cold? Quarterback Matt Ryan has been consistently one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Last season, he seemed to miss a lot of throws to open receivers. The Falcons will need him to be back to his former self in order to survive in this division.
Who’s gonna block that guy? The offensive line in front of Ryan is one that is patched together. If this group of guys can gel, the quarterback can get back to his MVP caliber play.
Do opposing D’s still fear Jones? Receiver Julio Jone, is one of the few elite receivers in the entire NFL. His supporting cast in the A-T-L includes an always dependable Mohamed Sanu, last year’s outstanding rookie Calvin Ridley, and tight end Austin Hooper. If they stay dominant, Ryan and the Falcons could make some noise in the division.
Will McCaffrey run amok again? The biggest nightmare the Panthers’ opposition had last season was how to stop running back Christian McCaffrey. He always seemed to break off a big run, and it usually came when the Panthers really needed it. A mobile quarterback under center and an explosive running back are enough to cause defensive coordinators a sleepless night or two.
Next level for Cam? A healthy Cam Newton is a dangerous one. With McCaffrey’s superior running ability, Newton should have some time in the pocket and not have to run for his life. Former Patriot Chris Hogan joins DJ Moore and tight end Greg Olsen as solid pass catchers for Newton and the Panthers.
More defensive firepower? This defense includes lights-out linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson. But they also added former Buccaneer defensive end Gerald McCoy. He, along with a pair of former Falcons, Dontari Poe and Bruce Irvin, could make this defense one of the best units in the league.
The explosive offense along with the chip from last year translates into this being the Falcons’ division. But don’t be surprised if the Panthers give them a run for their money, ending up with a Wild Card spot.